Tensions between a southwest Colombia indigenous community and local FARC rebels have risen after seven guerrillas were given decades in prison for their involvement in the killings of two men, while the community received death threats.
The seven rebels, themselves indigenous, were given up to 6o years in prison, while the minors involved were given lashes and time in a rehabilitation center until another trial is held when they reach adulthood, according to weekly Semana.
The Nasa community trial, in which 5,000 members participated, came less than a week after indigenous guards on a reservation in the southwestern Cauca state were killed reportedly after a discussion with a group of guerrilla fighters over propaganda posters commemorating the death of “Alfonso Cano,” one of FARC’s late leaders.
Ivan Marquez, a member of the FARC’s Secretariat, said through Twitter that the group regrets what happened with the indigenous community.
“In regard to this tragic outcome to an event which did not merit such escalation, and that could have been resolved through dialogue, we express our feelings of regret and concern,” a FARC communique published Sunday read.
On Friday, local media reports claimed the FARC rebel group had declared 26 indigenous leaders as “military objectives,” threats the guerrillas rejected as “apocryphal.”
Local news outlets, which could not verify the authenticity of the supposed FARC pamphlet, have said indigenous leaders are nonetheless fearful.
“Whether or not the threats are from the guerrillas or not, we are afraid that they could happen,” a leader of the indigenous community in the municipality of Toribio said, according to El Pais.
The rebel group also denied authenticity of the threat against the indigenous leaders.
The UN has expressed its concern over the killings and its implication for the ongoing violation of human rights in the conflict in Colombia.
“All parties of the conflict should respect the collective rights of the indigenous peoples,” said Fabrizio Hoschild, resident humanitarian coordinator with the United Nations in Colombia, in a press release.
The killings represent the violation of the rights to life, personal safety, and self-governance on the part of the indigenous community.
Violations of these rights would go against the principles of protecting civilians set out by the Fourth Geneva Convention related to war crimes. The FARC have explicitly recognized the first three Geneva conventions, but have so far failed to recognize the fourth that deals with war crimes against civilians.